Coming Soon: John McNeill & “Taking a Chance on God”, On Film, On-Line.

For some time, I have been reading reports of a documentary film on the life and ministry of the pioneer gay theologian, John McNeill, in production by Brendan Fay, one of the producers of “Saint of 9/11”, on the life and death at the World Trade Towers of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Franciscan chaplain to the NYC fire department,By way of a comment he has placed here today, I can now pass on the good news that a trailer for the film, which takes it title from one of John McNeill’s books, will shortly be available on-line:

Just wanted to inform all that in a few days a trailer to the documentary on my life and ministry will go on-line, at  “Taking a Chance on God”. ( The complete documentary will be premiered in December.

McNeill's Book of the Same Title


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The Power of Film

I seem to be seeing an awful lot of stories of new documentaries on queer faith. This is great- film is a powerful medium, and lends itself well for use in getting discussion going in parish or other faith groups. (Just this morning, I saw a notice on the web publicizing a screening of “Through my eyes” by a church:

Blessed Family of God Church, 829 Gillespie St., will host a movie night on Jan. 16 at 5:30 p.m. The movie is “Through My Eyes” and is about gay Christians.

When moderate Christians start to listen, think and discuss the issues with an open mind, we see attitudes changing. The use of film in parishes or smaller faith groups is an excellent way to get those discussions going. For queer group, seeing how others have dealt with their struggles in the churches can be a valuable learning experience too.

This is a run down of just some of the films that I have read about recently – and one that I have seen twice, and loved.

Preacher’s Sons

I have just come across this review of “Preacher’s Sons”, which tells the story of the “untraditional” Stewart family: Rev. Greg Stewart, senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, his husband Stillman Stewart, a former social worker and now at-home parent, and their five adopted boys:

In one of the opening scenes of the documentary film Preacher’s Sons, Stillman Stewart sits by a Los Angeles pool with his husband, Greg Stewart. The two white men watch their sons, splashing in the water, five boys of color who call out “Papa” and “Daddy” to Stillman and Greg. Stillman laughs, and recounts a conversation he’s just overheard between two older women at the pool who were observing their family. “Uh-oh,” one woman said. “There must be something wrong here.”
Preacher’s Sons follows the untraditional Stewart family for five years, through four cities. Despite what the women by the pool thought, the film depicts the Stewarts as doing something very right—giving permanent, loving homes to at-risk, hard-to-place children lost in the foster care system.

Between 2000 and 2002, the Rev. Greg Stewart, senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, and Stillman Stewart, a former social worker and now at-home parent, adopted five sons through the California foster care system. Their story attracted the attention of several television networks, which approached them about filming their family. The Stewarts always refused these requests. Things changed, however, when they were approached by two members of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, Calif., where Greg was serving as minister of religious education. The Stewarts didn’t believe the networks shared their mission of promoting the adoption of at-risk children. However they trusted fellow church members and husband-and-wife filmmakers Mark Nealey and C Roebuck Reed.

-More from UU World

For Such A Time As This

According to Candace Chellew -Hodge at Religion Dispatches, a filmmaker who has spent three years working on a film to build bridges between evangelical faith leaders and the LGBT community is responsible for Rick Warren’s about turn in making a statement condemning the Uganda hate bill – and her film is not even completed yet.

When Rachel Maddow started talking about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, or what Maddow called the “Kill the Gays Bill,” on her nightly MSNBC show late last month, Lisa Darden knew she needed to make a phone call.

Darden, a filmmaker and talent agent, had been interviewing conservative evangelical Christian leaders and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the religious right for the past several years, for her soon to be released movie, For Such a Time as This. The documentary seeks to bridge the gap between anti-gay Christians and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In her travels, she had become fast friends with A. Larry Ross, who serves as Rick Warren’s publicist.

“I knew this was going to break before it did, so I called Larry and told him what was going on and encouraged him to have Rick Warren make a statement against this law, because the silence from evangelical leaders was deafening. I told him somebody needs to stand up and this was an opportunity for Warren to be in front of the story or get run over by it,” she told Religion Dispatches.


The Bible Tells Me So

Directed by Daniel G. Karslake, this film has been around since 2007. It very cleverly uses the stories of five lesbians and gay men, from a range of denominations and social backgrounds, to explore the impact of standard Christian teaching on the lives of individuals and their families. In all five cases, the families were deeply religious and committed to their churches. by the end of the film, all five families described have been moved by their offsprings’ lives to moderate their earlier hostile views: in some cases, dramatically so. Along the way, it introduces cartoons, live footage from church meetings and news events together with commentary to gently unpack the appropriate understanding of Scripture on sexuality from the bigoted and hypocritical abuse by those who prefer to use it as a weapon.

I have seen this film twice. the first time was at a screening by the London Gay Humanist Society, where the largely gay atheist audience were visibly moved by seeing that there are sincere Christians who are willing to speak and act intelligently and sensitively on the Bible and homosexuality. The second was a screening after our LGBT Mass in Soho, where most of those I spoke to were deeply moved. (The few exceptions felt it was either too “American” or too “Protestant”).

(Watch a trailer on Youtube)



Prodigal Sons

I wrote about this a short while ago, (“Transgendered in Church, Again“) noting a news report on the strong positive reception it had at a screening in a church hall. This is how describes it in The Guardian:

The other week, I saw a film I can’t get out of my head. I’m not sure that it’s especially “good” in the sense of being flawlessly made. But it’s a film about inescapable flaws. Sometimes a movie does the simplest thing film has to offer: it shows us something we have never quite seen or felt before; it shows us something that shocks and alarms us – and that doesn’t have to be an ingredient from a horror picture, or something capable of fictional redemption. Horror can live in the mind of the beholder, and it can be an everyday thing. Let me try to describe Prodigal Sons to you.

It’s a family documentary, made by Kimberley Reed. She’s about 40 now, a tall, striking woman who lives in New York and went to film school. But she was a boy once, the star quarterback on her high-school football team in Montana. So it seems to be a documentary about sexual change – except that Kimberley doesn’t dwell on that experience. With her lover, another woman, she goes home to Montana to work out her family history.

Watch a trailer here:


Through my Eyes

This documentary, by the Gay Christian Network, focuses particularly on younger gay Christians. Two Amazon user reviews give something of its importance:

5.0 out of 5 stars Fruit for Dialog, March 10, 2009

“Through My Eyes” is a must-see for all Christians who are serious about living out the Gospel as it paves the way for reflective dialog among those who are seeking to put into practice Christ’s message to “love one another as I have loved you.” In this DVD, over two dozen Christians in their teens and twenties share their stories of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, who happen to have been born gay, and who long above all else to worship God with their entire being and desire that His holy and perfect will be done in their lives.

5.0 out of 5 stars A revealing truth…, March 10, 2009
By (Seattle, WA USA) – See all my review

Through My Eyes is the first documentary I’ve seen that’s only agenda is to ask people to listen. There are no “this is what you should think” or “these people are wrong/right because…” statements. It’s just young Christians, who happen to be glbt, sharing their stories. A must see for any Christian!

However, a dissenting view points out that the perspective is specifically that of a fairly conservative, evangelical branch of “Christian”, and so not necessarily relevant to all.

2.0 out of 5 stars Not so satisfied
I am a gay Christian and I just finished watching this film. I think the reason I was so underwhelmed with it is because, while it involves interviews with multiple people, it only gives one perspective: that of people who are gay and were raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist tradition. And it doesn’t describe itself in that context!

(Watch the trailer on Youtube)



8: The Mormon Proposition

This film, telling the story of the Mormon involvement in California’s battle over gay marriage in Proposition 8, has been widely acclaimed (Huffington Post says it will “knock your socks off“) , and is to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. This mainstream exposure, coupled with the topical subject matter, will bring it the widest and most mainstream audiences of all those discussed here.

(Watch the trailer on Youtube)